Updated: Apr 17, 2020
How to Nurture Emotional Development (and enhance EQ)
Here are some general guidelines to developing an emotionally intelligent child:
1. Get Back to Basics: shelter, nutrition, sleep, & safety are first!
It might sound obvious, but it’s number 1 on the list for a reason – many families struggle to afford everyday necessities. Food is expensive, housing is expensive, and if a child is without stable housing or a full belly, we really can’t be focusing on mental health just yet. Sleep is directly connected to all aspects of health, if sleep is a struggle for your little one, make it a priority (also for you as a parent, too!). Finally, is safety is compromised at all (a neighbourhood known for crime, fighting between parents, drug or alcohol misuse), then the child’s mental health struggles are likely related.
Dealing with the core issues (shelter, nutrition, sleep, & safety) will very likely promote better mental health for the whole family. Reach out to your local advocacy agencies (food banks, transition houses, etc) or government departments if you need help. You are not alone.
Strong attachments (trustworthy, connected, predictable, comforting) to primary caregivers (you) & close family/friends are very important.
3. Understand developmental stages
Every child grows at a different rate. “Stages” is a subjective term, so don’t stick to them religiously. With development, we need to manage our expectations of our children. Children are smart, yes, but they often you’re your help managing & regulating their emotions. is a term used to explain how parents teach their child to regulate their emotions independently by the parent regulating their child. Modeling regulation first, then practicing alongside the child in the heat of the moment. Eventually, after thousands of co-regulating experiences, the child takes it on themselves and it becomes habit (this is why it’s so important to avoid saying “stop crying!” and “you’re fine” – they need us to help them stop crying, and to realize that they are fine).
4. Allow your children to express themselves
Accept that all emotions are OK. They might be uncomfortable (and hard to watch/hear in your child), but uncomfortable emotions are a part of life and we must allow children to experience them, in order to help them tolerate discomfort later on in life. Accept the tantrums, limit-pushing, testing & noise – it’s all a part of their learning. Sit with them, in their discomfort (and in yours). Being together is often enough. Acknowledge your own struggle with your child (ex. “I think I’m feeling angry, too. What should we do?”). You’ve just opened the floodgates of communication, baby. It’s amazing what children will tell you when you a) get at their level, and b) show them you’re human, too.
5. Make EQ a normal part of everyday
Talk about emotions as often as you talk about numbers & letters. How? Point out emotional expressions in books, TV shows, etc. (I saw a range of emotions in Frozen 2 – perfect opportunity to explain why mommy is crying in the middle of the theater). See the EQ RESOURCES page for a list of toys, books, and games that all center around EQ, plus a list of ordinary activities that enhance EQ (spoiler alert: you may already be doing some of them!)
6. Teach basic emotions
Help them name emotions within themselves, and recognize them in others. (ex. Looks like you’re feeling sad, is that right? Your sister looks mad – why might that be?) See the EQ Activities page for more ideas!
7. Acknowledge strengths, unique personality traits, & effort
Praise them for effort over outcome (ex. you worked super hard on that painting, that was amazing kiddo *high-five*). Avoid appearance-related comments (it can negatively impact their self-esteem later on, and/or their relationship with food).
This sounds obvious, but too often we “listen” with the intent to respond, fix, or discipline. Try listening for a solid 3 minutes, without interrupting or speaking. Just listen to their message… see what happens ;)
9. Supportive problem solving
Let them find the answers themselves (they will be so proud when they do!). If they’re way off base (i.e. burning the house down is not an effective way of dealing with their fear of spiders), try to provide partial suggestions (well, I really like our home. Maybe instead we could give the spider a new home… where should that be?)
10. Create a safe space
Create an environment where your child would be comfortable telling you anything. The good, the bad, & the ugly. (3-year-old: “Mommy, you made me really mad when you said I couldn’t have another dessert” *sob*).
11. Connect with Community
Enrol them in an activity they enjoy, that connects them to other role-models & carers in the community (coaches, neighbours, volunteers, etc). A children’s yoga-mindfulness class couldn’t hurt.
12. Develop INSIGHT
Ah… this one is my favourite. Insight basically means “personal reflection”. It’s the ability reflect on our lives, and redirect things when they’re not in line with our goals & valued. It’s so sweet to hear your child set goals, and even sweeter to watch them achieve them *sigh*. I’m going to keep this one short & link you to an entire post on this one – with ideas for developing insight in our children (& in ourselves).
13. Take care of your own
mental health Research suggests that an emotionally healthy parent is directly connected to emotionally healthy children, So, next time you need a reason to make time for you, science has your back ;)